Meraki [may-rah-kee]: (Greek) The art of doing something with all your heart, with love; the essence of yourself that is put into your work
Do you know the thing about Kolkata? It is hot in summers and that sucks. The humidity will make you sweat so badly that you will hate wasting all that water. It could literally fill the thirst of an entire district of water-starved poor people, with some free salt of course. That’s another thing about Kolkata. It is poor. At least that is how some perceive this city. But the city is much more than that. Also known as the city of “Joy”, the city is rich with art, culture, and romance, the essence of which can be found in little things as well as grandeur events across the city.
This time we find, or try to find, romance at a rooftop restaurant. You perhaps know about Hyatt Regency. It is not Hyatt Regency. It is beside Hyatt Regency, for our guy is just a typical modhybitwo bangali chele (middle class Bengali boy). Aditya, or as some orthodox bongs preferred to call him Aa-dit-tyo, was a decently handsome guy who was confident that he was not handsome and that he is decently bad when it came to girls. That is why he planned this night to be perfect for her.
He knew if there was one thing he was decently good at, it was planning. It didn’t matter if some might have dubbed the planning as “extra”. It didn’t matter if some one advised him strictly to wait till the fourth or fifth date to even consider such a plan and never ever consider this on a first date. He just wanted her to have an amazing evening.
Or at least he planned to.
He stared at his mobile for the 5th time past the time you stop counting how many times you checked the clock while waiting for someone. It was 7.30 pm. “Just” 7.30 pm – he corrected himself. Just an hour and thirty minutes late. She is a girl. She was allowed to be a bit late. Moreover, she did send him a text, the previous day, that she would, definitely, try to meet him, though she might be a bit late. He decided to do what every sane human being, equipped by God to do intelligent productive work on Earth, does these days while he was waiting for someone who was allowed to be late. He opened Instagram.
Let us take a moment here and try to understand how fingers of a professional guitarist work. Over periods of countless practices, a guitarist’s fingers develop what is popularly known as “muscle memory.” Well, Aditya was just an amateur guitarist and the only muscle memory his fingers developed was opening Antara’s profile every time he opened Instagram. His fingers also knew which post he wanted to check, rather hear again.
Aditya tapped the black colored post with the icon of a video-camera and volume indicating that you needed to have an earphone to enjoy that post. A couple of days back, Aditya had used the new “save-post” feature on that post as soon as the feature was launched by Instagram so that he could view that specific post as quickly and as often as he wished. He had already shut his eyes to be taken back in time to that fateful day when it all started, something worth being the prologue of this story.
It was a horribly tiring day at the office. On top of that, there had been several sleepless nights. Loneliness and boredom were eating him up. All he starved for was a mental connection with someone’s heart. Or a hearty connection with someone’s mind. Whichever worked. Coupled with these were superficial chats from superficial matches on Tinder. Hence, sometimes he felt that it was better not to talk at all about anything to anyone.
That was until that day he noticed Antara, who was also another Tinder match but who hardly sent any superficial chats, had uploaded a video recording of a song. There were no images. It was a black colored post with the icon of a video-camera and volume indicating that you needed to have an earphone to enjoy that post. As he put on his earphone, he heard for the first time ever the iconic Elvis Presley song, not in the voice of Elvis Presley though, and Aditya could not help falling in love with Antara, or at least her voice. That night he had the best sleep ever, after of course talking to Antara till 5:30 am in the morning.
Aditya opened his eyes to find her sitting in front of him. Hair open as usual and eyes holding that weird energetic smile. Yes, not only did she smile with her lips but her eyes too. They had a way of narrowing a bit as her smile broadened to expose the cute buck tooth through her lips. That also cautioned the person in front of her that she was about to be sarcastic.
“Kire sleeping beauty! Ghumiye porechhili naki?” (What’s up sleeping beauty! Did you fall asleep or what?)
There was something about the way she pronounced “chh”. It was different and had a nice ring to the ear. It was not perfect and that is what made it unique and beautiful to hear.
While Aditya was phonetically breaking down “porechhili” in his mind to enjoy the “chh”, he completely forgot to notice that he was not at all sitting at the rooftop restaurant where we started our story. All he noticed was Antara sipping beer. She had a soft peach colored top on with white trousers and she sat cross-legged on the bar stool beside him.
“Hmm. I had this weird dream that I was at this rooftop restaurant waiting for you.”
“Bah! Here I am sitting in front of you waiting! Ar tui sopne dekhchhis (“chh”) that you are waiting for me?” (You were dreaming that you were waiting for me?)
“Probably you were busy somewhere else in my dream with Shah Rukh or Minions”, Aditya replied with a smirk, “or both”. He took a sip of beer from the bottle which had magically appeared in his hand.
“Baapre. Ami to pagol hoye jabo, (OMG! I will go mad.)” Antara said lifting one eyebrow, tilting her head slightly backward and taking another sip from her bottle of beer. “Maybe I should have run away with a Zac Efron in this reality while you were dreaming about my fantasies!” She took one tissue, folded it neatly into a triangle, placed it on the counter surface and then kept her beer bottle on top of it, using the tissue as a coaster.
It was a cue for Aditya to remark something intelligent back at her. But a loud uproar outside distracted the two of them.
“Adi! Come! It is starting!” Antara was dragging Aditya by his elbow to outside. They rushed outside of the café (or bar was it?) to find themselves in a big gathering surrounded by tall skyscrapers. People were cheering, hooting and chanting (which our Modhybitwo Bangali chele later realized was a countdown) looking upwards in one direction (or rooftop).
It was all very strange for someone who was, moments ago, waiting for some lady at a rooftop restaurant in Kolkata where people never cheer, hoot or chant (or do countdowns) staring up at some huge crystal ball mounted on a huge post at the top of a tall building. It was all very strange to leave a city like that and find yourself suddenly at the Times Square, New York, on a New Year’s Eve.
They were at the Times Square, New York and it was New Year’s Eve. People all around were ecstatic with excitement while they eagerly waited for the famed dropping of the Crystal Ball when the clock hits a New Year.
The countdown had begun. There were colorful paper bits flying all around, thanks to a few unlucky volunteers on the rooftops who were trying to make the evening magical for the many lucky ones on the street below.
Aditya felt a tug on his arm. He looked to his side. There was no one there. Antara was standing in front of him, joining the crowd cheering, hooting, and counting. He placed his hands on her shoulders and joined in.
Another tug at his arms. “Sir!” Aditya thought he heard someone yelling but it was lost in the crowd.
Time seemed to slow down around Aditya.
Okay, stop with the tugging already! Aditya yelled in his mind, shutting his eyes. The tugging went on very violently now.
Aditya opened his eyes, dreadfully. As he lifted his head, he found the familiar face of the waiter who showed him to the table where Aditya had been waiting for his lady at a rooftop restaurant in Kolkata.
“Sir, would you like to order anything else? Perhaps t main course with your drinks?” asked the waiter with a fake-but-trying-hard-to-be-classy accent.
Aditya looked at the 3 bottles of Bira 91 and one empty glass with bits of ice which suggested that he had at least one glass of whiskey as well. He looked at the chair in front and beside him. Still empty.
“Umm…”, Aditya fumbled while he quickly took a glance at his watch which gloomily displayed that it was 8:30 pm. “Uhmmm…” Aditya fumbled while he searched his jacket pocket, retrieved his phone and noticed that there were no Instagram DMs on it either, except a hundred missed calls from his friend Pankaj. He got the message.
“Umm…. It is alright. Can you please get the check?”
“Sure.” The waiter replied and strolled off. Aditya sensed a faint tone of disappointed-sarcasm in that fake-but-trying-hard-to-be-classy accent.
While Aditya waited for the waiter to bring the bill, he called Pankaj. He was ready for the big “I told you so” from his childhood friend. He readied himself for worse.
“Where are you!? I have been calling for so long! And is it time already?”
“Umm bro… really sorry but we have to cancel it all.”
There was a big pause.
Some more pause.
The pause began to feel like an eternity.
Then it came…
“WHAT THE HELL!!! B*** C****!!! (a typical Bengali slang which has been censored proactively following the Padmavati row)”
“Umm, I am sorry man but …”
“HERE I AM WAITING FOR YOUR SIGNAL FOR PAST 1 HOUR …”
“Wait! You were supposed to be here 2 hours ago.”
“WHATEVER! NOW, WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH THIS SANTA CLAUS COSTUME!!!”
The waiter had brought him the invoice. Aditya took this advantage to excuse himself from Pankaj. Although he cut the call, he was pretty sure Pankaj was not ready to excuse him.
Aditya cleared the bill. He was not in the mood to tip the waiter, and definitely not in the mood to get another faint tinge of disappointed-sarcasm from the waiter for not tipping. So, he quickly grabbed his coat and left his table.
While he was about to walk past the reception and through the restaurant door, the manager stopped him at the reception desk.
“Sir hope you enjoyed your evening tonight.”
“Thank you. Yes, the Bira 91 was delicious.”
The manager, unsure of how to respond to that, decided to press on more important matters.
“So, I presume I should cancel your request for holding the rose wine ready?”
“Umm… Yes, please. I am really sorry if it caused any inconvenience.” Aditya was not at all sorry or bothered if it caused the manager some inconvenience. He just wanted to sound nice and polite lest the manager decided to bill him for something he did not get to taste.
“That’s alright sir.” The manager picked up his intercom to connect to the bar and scratched the request beside Aditya’s name on the reception desk. “By the way, sir what about the letter?”
The manager looked up only to find the restaurant doors shutting on his face. “Hmph.” He thought of running after him but he found that task beneath his pay grade. His paygrade involved taking reservations from customers and allotting them tables and on some rare occasions to take requests from them, for example, serving that special bottle of wine at the perfect time with a letter.
While he waited for more such customers, the manager decided to do what every sane human being, who does not own an Instagram account and is equipped by God to do intelligent productive work on Earth, does these days while he was waiting. He opened WhatsApp.
It was still not working. He cross-checked the text notification which he had received from his network company earlier, just so that he had an excuse ready for his wife for not being able to contact her. The text confirmed that the servers would be down from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm for maintenance. He felt glad that glad that apps nowadays have a “save-post” feature which allowed people to view posts by their friends as quickly and as often as they wished, even when the app was used offline.
He was about to open that new video featuring Sunny Leone, the one launched a couple of days back on YouTube (another change made proactively after the Padmavati row) and the first post where he had used the save-post feature when suddenly the restaurant door flung open.
An unfamiliar face was standing in front of him.
There was a knock on the door.
She decided to stop the book there. She realized that she had already spent more than an hour on it. It was an important day and she could not waste any more time of it, no matter how much she wanted. She neatly placed the bookmark she had received on her birthday. This bookmark was one of her favorite gifts. Well, anything with minions was her favorite. This one specifically told her what a Minion born in the Gemini season would be like.
The book was also a gift in fact. She was really amused to see her name on the very first page. She turned the pages to check it just once more.
“This book is dedicated to my dearest friend…” There was a knock on the door again.
“Come In!” She called out shutting the book and placing it on her desk.
It was her assistant with the cup of tea she had ordered almost an hour ago. Nothing gets done on time here she thought unless she does it on her own.
“What is the status?” She asked her assistant with the professional-tone she had gained over past 14 years in the catering business.
“Ma’am we are ready with the food. The guest list is ready. Waiters are ready to receive…”
“Okay okay! What about the main event?” She took the cup but couldn’t find the coaster to keep the cup on.
“Umm… Sorry to say but the big man will not be able to come. He sent his sincerest regards as he knows how important it was for you. But he did confirm that his son will come.”
This was disappointing. Suddenly a coaster was not that important.
“Okay, but which one?”
“He did mention AbRam. He is old enough to drink and attend parties right?”
“Hmm. You can leave now. I will join you in a minute, or as long as this tea lasts. And do you have a tissue by any chance?”
The assistant went forward to hand her a tissue. That is when she noticed the book on her boss’s desk.
“Isn’t that the one being launched today! You already got a copy?”
“You can leave now.”
She folded the tissue neatly into a triangle, placed it on the surface of her office desk and then kept her teacup on top of it, using the tissue as a coaster. But she couldn’t help but smile a bit as she placed the book inside her desk drawer. He might be a good friend. But he was always crazy. Someone would term as “extra” and advise you to stay away from.
Maybe that is why…
A thought crossed her mind.
She walked over to the cupboard where she kept old documents, opened it and searched through the dusty old files. She pulled out the first journal she had used for book-keeping when she had first started out on her business. Nostalgia poured in as she recalled the countless hours she tired over to get to where she was now. But nostalgia was not what she was looking for.
She turned the pages of the journal and stopped when she found it – the sealed letter dated 25th December 2017.